The 5 Leadership Phases of COVID

 

I’m sure few of us imagined that by this time, we’d still be in this COVID pandemic!  But here we are.

 

At High Performance Leaders as we’ve continued to engage with our partner leaders, we have identified five phases that most, if not all, leaders have experienced to one extent or another throughout this situation.

 

Phase 1 was the “Crisis” phase where leaders were faced with a rapidly changing situation.  They struggled to keep up with a developing situation and had to quickly and creatively develop new policies and standards to protect the health and safety of their employees while also trying to maintain their operations.  They were experiencing the change curve at almost exactly the same time as the teams they were leading.  This was uncharted territory for most leaders!

 

In Phase 2 leaders were thrown into “Establishing the new work environment”.  Setting up the infrastructure, technology and processes for them and their teams to work remotely.  Some leaders also had to lead through a hybrid situation where some of their team worked remotely while other parts were still required to be at the workplace.  Some had to revise the work week or working hours and establish new working standards and processes.

 

“Staying engaged” was Phase 3 where leaders time and attention was spent on figuring out how to keep their teams busy, productive, and focused.  They and their teams were still learning how to work remotely and stay in contact with each other.  New forms, media, and initiatives of mass and individual communication was needed to be established.  Many leaders struggled getting and keeping their teams aligned and focused beyond the normal day to day of what seemed like basic survival tasks.  Short term team goals needed to be established to motivate, inspire, and frankly become a distraction from what was now becoming a longer-term situation than people originally thought.  Important by Phase 3 and remaining relevant today was a reminder about the Stockdale Paradox.  As Jim Collins said “You must maintain unwavering faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, and at the same time, have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.  Watch Jim’s Collin’s explain the Stockdale Paradox here.  (full video 6:41).

 

Phase 4 showed the impact the first few months of COVID had on leaders as the reality of the “New normal, new reality” had sunk in.  Many leaders were extremely frustrated by the on-going situation, were depressed and many were burning or were burned out.  Longer days, blurred lines between work and personal time, and not having any vacations to speak of had taken their toll.  Of course, continued governmental restrictions and protocols impacted the traditional social and personal escape routines.  The long-term reality of the situation had set in.

“Cultural tensions” define Phase 5 that I believe we are currently still in.  This is where opposing thoughts, expectations, and beliefs such as the need to wear masks or not wear masks are creating polarized views within society but also within our teams and businesses.  Some team members are more disciplined than others toward COVID standards and protocols than others.  We are all longing for the ‘old’ ways and want everything to be ‘open’.  Economic fallout is now obvious as layoffs, permanent closures, higher costs, and budget constraints are rearing their heads and must be dealt with.

 

It’s been a tough road and experts say, tougher roads lay ahead.  However, don’t despair, this too will end and we will get through it!  Here’s a few reasons why I really believe this.

 

I was blown away with the quick actions that most business leaders, companies, political leaders, and society overall took in the initial stages of COVID.  Many people and organizations stepped up and acted with integrity to do the right thing, to innovate and implement creative ways to keep people safe and employed, to make funds available to subsidize lost wages, protect against financial impacts.  Although some will feel it hasn’t been enough, it’s incredible though just what has been done in the time it has been.  It’s easy to be critical, but I encourage you to consider just what has been done!

 

Humans throughout all of time, have persevered, survived and prospered.  We will do it again.  We will change, adopt and discover.  Some of the best advancements, innovations, creativity throughout history have resulted from some of the worst and biggest challenges humans have faced.

 

There are many good and great leaders and people out there.  This is their time and they will step up!

 

Through CEO Global Network, I recently had the opportunity to hear Randy Garfield, President (retired) of Walt Disney Travel Company speak on the topic of “A Legacy of Determination”.  He had some great and inspiring things to say about the current situation.  Here are a few that really resonated with me:

 

  • Times are tough, but times have been tough in every generation.  Our parents or grandparents lived through the dark tunnel of WWII
  • We need to maintain the long-term view
  • Don’t underestimate the power of creative solutions
  • Out of adversity can come incredible success
  • Don’t overlook survival guilt as many of our employees have never experienced a challenge like we are all facing. 
  • Crisis doesn’t make a great leader, but it can bring out the best in a good one

I’m not sure what Phase 6 will be, but there will be a Phase 6.  It may very likely get worse before it gets better, but we will get through this, together!  You can sit back and ride it out, or, help lead those around you out of this.  You don’t have to have all the answers, just lead the next best step.  What do you choose?

 

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As we move towards the ‘new normal’, our need to adapt the way we execute our work will demand an increase in our continuous improvement and innovation (CI&I) activity.

 

As you do this, I would encourage you to follow the logic I use for future state design – THINK TO S.E.E – Simple, Elegant and Effective. 

 

When you approach CI&I, the focus should always be on simplifying how we do our work – it is much easier to make things more complicated than it is to simply them.   Solutions should be elegant or well-designed following design thinking methodology.  And finally, it is critical that processes are effective in delivering internal and external customer value.   

 

Developing and executing future state design using the THINK TO S.E.E approach does take more thought and effort, but the effort will have a much higher rate of return.   Quoting Mark Twain – “If I had more time, I would have written you a shorter letter”. 

 

If you would be interested in attending a virtual skill development session on the THINK TO S.E.E methodology, please let me know. 

 

Keep improving. 

Scott

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One of my favourite management thinkers is Peter Drucker.

 

One of his many philosophies is “The best way to predict the future is to create it”.     

 

In simple terms, it is up to you on how your future will unfold.  By coming up with ideas about what you want to achieve, you begin to plan. As you plan, you begin to take action. As you take action, you begin to create your future. 

 

As we approach the new normal, it is more important than ever for both individuals and organizations to embrace this thinking.  

 

Keep improving. 

Scott

 

 

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“All work and no play make Jack a dull boy”. Originally a proverb, this phrase was made famous by Jack Nicholson in the movie ‘The Shining’.  The real meaning of the proverb is that if you focus only on repetitive work, work that has limited challenge or if you do the same work every day, you will get bored and demotivated.  In organizations, focusing solely on executing daily work can lead to reduced productivity and lower engagement.  

 

Everyone needs meaning and challenge beyond their daily work.   Getting teams involved in continuous improvement projects or problem solving will allow them to focus on activities that will contribute to the long-term success of the organization.   If teams can get involved in improving their own work and work areas, it allows for increased levels of ownership, productivity improvement and reduced levels of frustration.  All very necessary activities to prepare to move into the new normal.     

 

Please let me know your thoughts.

 

Keep improving

Scott

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We have moved from uncertainty to the ‘temporary’ normal.  We appear to be moving through 3 distinct phases – uncertainly and adjustment, the temporary normal and the new normal.     Most of us are now in the temporary normal phase (I know I am). 

 

What is different about this phase?    We are experiencing what it is like to work in a social distance work world, whether at home or at the workplace.   We have figured out methods to execute our work and are falling into some form of operating rhythm.   Most of us have moved to an acceptance phase and are trying to make the best of the current state.  Some of us are learning valuable lessons that we can apply for this phase and for the new normal.  

 

What is required to win in this phase?   We are still dealing with a situation that is not well understood and has limited predictability.  Our natural instinct is to try to predict or control the situation.   In a complex situation, both are very difficult.   Instead,  we need to focus on adaptability and resilience.    Adaptability is preparing ourselves to rapidly reconfigure how we do our work and how we engage with our team members.   Resilience is developing the skills to step back, understand, regroup and then set a course to continue to move towards our long-term goals.   In order to be resilient your team needs to have a positive but realistic attitude, to be able to use failure and set- backs as an opportunity to learn and grow and to execute a plan to adapt and move forward.  

 

As leaders it is up to us to set the example for both adaptability and resilience.

 

Please let me know your thoughts.

 

Keep improving

Scott

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During normal times, it can be difficult to find things we are grateful for at work.    As humans we tend to focus on the negative as a way to protect ourselves.  The negative focus can lead to additional stress. The focus on the negative is magnified during times of uncertainty. 

 

To help yourself, I am encouraging you to take on the gratefulness challenge.

 

As a first step in the challenge, identify what and who you are grateful for with your work.  This will immediately help you focus on what is good, which should help reduce stress.

 

Second, there are many opportunities during this time to learn and develop your growth as a leader.  During the temporary normal, identify what you are leaning and how you can use this to help you grow as a leader, so you are stronger and have additional skills when we get into our new normal.

 

Finally, as a reminder, place a post-it-note where you can see it as a reminder – “What am I grateful for?”. 

For the challenge, please share what you are grateful for and what you are learning that will help you grow as a leader.

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For most of us, we are now in week 4 of the ‘new normal’.   It also appears that we may be in our current situation for the unforeseeable future.  One of the last things we typically think about in an uncertain situation is continuous improvement. 

 

As we get used to our new working environments, we develop habits, tools and methods that help make our work easier.  We also identify those things that make our work more difficult. In a continuous improvement culture, we encourage our team members to share and adopt these best practices.   As well, we also encourage our teams to identify the blockers in how they perform their work and possible solutions

 

As a leader, now is a good time to engage our teams in identifying improvements and best practice sharing in the ‘new normal’.  Ask a few simple questions – what have we learned? What are we doing that works well? What is blocking our ability to be more effective?  Remember to engage your team in solutions, get them involved with the implementation and don’t take all the work on yourself.

 

Please let me know your thoughts.

 

Keep connected.

Scott

 

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It goes without saying that this is an extremely trying time for all of us.  We are all experiencing a high degree of emotion as we try to understand and navigate what this change means for us.   Now more than ever it is critical to Lead with Empathy – to walk a mile in an other’s shoes to get an understanding of what they are experiencing.  

 

How we react as leaders and organizations will be remembered by our people long after the world resumes to whatever the new normal will be.   It is important that we don’t leave our team members, our customers and our communities with the impression that we have an ‘empathy gap’ or that we do not care. 

Here are a few things you can do to help avoid the empathy gap.  

 

1. Communicate with simple, clear and sensitive messaging. The fewer words the better as it leaves little room for interpretation.  Approach the message from the position of those that will receive it and try to anticipate their reaction.

 

2. Keep the goal clear and your communication focused.   Always keep in mind our team members safety and what we are actively doing to help our organizations come out of the crisis as best as we can.

 

3. Connect at all levels of the organization to understand the climate or mood of all our team members. Don’t just depend on your immediate team for their interpretations, go and see (virtually) different areas of the organization.

 

4. Be seen and heard.  Make sure that people can see you when you speak whether in person or by video and speak without notes were possible.  

 

Please let me know your thoughts.

 

Take care and keep connected.

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